So what do you do when you challenge yourself to come up with a design to make traveling around busy, congested cities as easy and stress-free as possible? According to the folks behind the YikeBike - which was officially launched at Eurobike 2009 trade fair in Friedrichshafen Germany this month - you start with a blank sheet of paper, throw a good-sized front wheel in for stability, swap pedals for a brushless electric motor and abandon the familiar forward-leaning riding position of the bicycle altogether.

The term bicycle was, according to the Pedaling History Bicycle Museum, first coined to describe a weird-looking two wheeled contraption that became popular in the 1870/80s. Much later it was nick-named the Penny Farthing, looking as it did similar to a small English Farthing and the larger English Penny placed next to each other.

Reinventing the wheel

The old bicycle design has now received a facelift courtesy of Grant Ryan, a successful businessmen and keen tinkerer from New Zealand. Aiming to tackle burning issues such as inner city congestion, parking problems, pollution, lack of personal space, increasing fuel prices and increasing urbanization, the design team opted for a fresh approach to two wheel transportation.

In order to safely traverse all the bumps, pot-holes, curbs and such like, a good sized front wheel seemed a good place to start. Stretching forward to reach handlebars on a bicycle might be what we've become used to over the last 120 years or so but an upright riding position would afford the rider better visibility whilst at the same time being seen more easily by others. By also making the vehicle truly portable, the basic mini-farthing design began to take shape.

Some five years and lots of tweaking and testing later and the first expression of the mini-farthing concept is realized in the form of the YikeBike. Pedal power has given way to a custom 1.5kW brushless electric motor which drives a 20-inch front wheel.

The motor is powered by the latest nano-lithium-phosphate (liFePO4) battery technology which, the company claims, takes only 30 minutes to fully charge, has a range of about 10km (just over 6 miles) and should be good for at least 1000 charges. All of the smart electrics are completely sealed and shower-proof. Smooth, safe and relatively short (when compared with a bicycle) stopping is made possible by electronic anti-skid brakes. And all of this is enclosed in a sexy black carbon fiber frame construction that provides lightweight strength.

Indicators, lights and controls are situated on hand grips to the side of, and slightly underneath the seat. Acceleration is reported as being quick and smooth, reaching its full speed of 20kph in a matter of seconds. The YikeBike quickly folds up to a meager 150mm by 600mm by 600mm (5.9in by 23.6in by 23.6in) and weighs only 10kg (22lbs) all in, making it the smallest and lightest electric folding bicycle currently available.

"What we have done is take a fresh approach to cycle design to give people freedom to commute easily and quickly in crowded urban environments with a minimal carbon footprint," says inventor Ryan.

Learning to ride the vehicle takes no time at all and appears to be great fun, one product blog visitor commenting: "These would have to be the most fun you can have, sitting down with your hands by your sides and your clothes on!" But there is a problem - those who've tried it can't seem to wipe the smile from their faces.

As well as being enjoyable, the YikeBike includes important safety features like a short wheel base for maneuverability and fast acceleration to make getting out of trouble a breeze; high visibility lighting that remains illuminated all the time; a distinctive sound so that others can hear you coming; and a limit on how fast the vehicle can travel. And despite what you might see in the video below, wearing a safety helmet is recommended.

Can I get one?

It's not yet available, the company is currently asking those in Europe (where, for the moment at least, it's being offered exclusively) to register interest on the website. A deposit of €100 (about USD$143) is required at registration, to secure your place in the queue (so to speak). When your build slot comes up you'll be contacted and can cancel your order any time before agreeing to the build for a full refund.

Ryan told Gizmag that ordering so far has been brisk and that the first production model will be shipped out around April 2010 and will likely cost between €3500 and €3900 (about USD$5000/5570 - although it's not being made available in the US at this time). Subsequent orders will be fulfilled after that.

The YikeBike is strictly an urban traffic solution geared towards short jaunts to and from work in the big city. It's a novel design and definitely eye-catching but there's no racing or off-roading here, in fact the company very much advises against such activity. The range though is quite limited and as with all new technology, it's not cheap. On the plus side it's compact, lightweight and portable, and charging should be quick and relatively inexpensive.

If you have any concerns about stability then keep an eye on the website for details of where the product is being shown so you can go along and try it for yourself. Be prepared to wear a silly grin for some time afterwards.

Judging by the press launch footage below though, it's that unbridled fun element that's likely to be one of it's strongest selling points.

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